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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Surgeons to get better feel for remote operations when 5G technology rolls out

Researchers at Gitex were spelling out the future of delivering healthcare, including how better haptics will allow surgeons to get a better feel for operations conducted by robots

The 5G robotic surgery display at the Etisalat stand at Gitex Technology Week in October. Pawan Singh / The National
The 5G robotic surgery display at the Etisalat stand at Gitex Technology Week in October. Pawan Singh / The National

Mobile communications will soon play an important role in helping doctors to treat patients at home and helping surgeons deliver healthcare in remote areas.

The latest advancements in robotic surgery were just some of the developments on show at Gitex 2017 at Dubai World Trade Centre on Tuesday.

Researchers from King’s College London are working alongside Etisalat, Ericsson and Room One to help make remote healthcare as seamless as possible.

Internet accessibility is constantly improving and the arrival of 5G technology should enable healthcare to be delivered faster, and easier.

One of those advancements is in robotic surgery, with King’s College researchers working to improve the sense of touch of surgeons operating more than one robot at a time from a remote position during surgery.

“We are able to control the robot from a remote environment but the development of haptics is giving more feel and control to the surgeon who is operating the robotics remotely,” said Greek Phd student Kostas Antonakoglou, a researcher at King’s College London.

“Robotics are useful but surgeons have lost the feeling of touch. This is helping to change that.”

By wearing a special glove with sensors, the surgeon can feel depth of pressure and touch that is being applied by the robot during operations. A strong 5G connection is crucial to this.

Robotic surgeries are generally safer and more precise than those done by a single surgeon, according to researchers at Gitex.

They can also replicate the actions of several surgeons at once, with four robots operating simultaneously.

“This is something one surgeon cannot do alone,” Mr Antonakoglou said.

“It is reliant on 5G and our research is working on reducing lag, and that will reduce as the technology improves.

“These robots can be used in an ambulance or in remote areas, so doctors can perform surgery remotely.”

Improved broadband speeds will also widen the range of teaching for medical students who will be able to control practice robotic surgeries for themselves via their mobile phones.

“Where Skype, for example, can synchronise audio and video, with 5G we will soon be able to synchronise audio, visual and haptics,” said Melissa Dore, operations manager at technology developers Room One.

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“It is difficult to stream images in real time in high definition - this is hard to do - but 5G will make it much easier.

“Low latency is critical in certain situations; this means there is ultra-reliability and it will help students to learn remotely, so it is very useful as a teaching aid.

“Ideally, students will be able to use their mobile phones to tune in.”

5G technology is expected to be widely in use in the UAE before 2020.

In the future it will be commonplace for data to be sent securely from patients to doctors, who may not even be in the same country, and the doctors can then make an accurate remote diagnosis.

As internet speeds continue to improve, developers of digital healthcare technology are confident this will improve the care delivered to people who live alone or those in hard-to-reach areas.

Once real-time information is available to doctors, the health management of patients with long-term chronic health conditions should also improve, reducing hospital readmissions and emergency call-outs.

“We want to show realistically the difference these products can make to the healthcare sector,” said Daniel Amir Raduan Munem, senior manager of digital health industries at Etisalat.

“We want to be in a position to deliver the care regardless of the patient’s location, so it is very useful for doctors to be able to help patients living in remote areas or in the desert if there has been a serious incident, but the specialists required are far away.

“Our targets are to allow doctors to treat patients wherever they are, giving them access to a virtual clinic in their own homes.”

Doctors will be able to monitor health indicators like blood pressure, blood sugar levels or other vital signs in patients with diabetes or heart disease remotely.

With improved internet capability, they will be able to access unique biometric information by in-home technology that collects patient data and sends it onto doctors, who are alerted if there is a potential health risk.

“Our targets are to allow doctors to treat patients wherever they are, giving them access to a virtual clinic in their own homes,” said Mr Munem.

“Dubai Health Authority has been using this with 25 patients and were able to monitor a patient’s condition while they were in India.

“Patients will be trained how to use the platform, so it will be simple for the elderly to use.”